"American Splendor," Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's quirky look at the life of underground comic book writer Harvey Pekar, was voted best picture of 2003 on Saturday by the National Society of Film Critics. The directors also won for their screenplay of the film, which cleverly blends fiction with reality.
As was the case this time last year, no single film has emerged as a front-runner in the awards race that culminates in the Oscars.
Last month, the National Board of Review named "Mystic River" best picture and the New York Film Critics Circle chose "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."
The New York critics, however, voted "American Splendor" best first film. Except for a supporting actress nod for Hope Davis, "American Splendor" was bypassed for Golden Globe nominations.
Last year, the National Society of Film Critics anointed "The Pianist" best film, as well as voting Roman Polanski best director and Adrien Brody best actor. Polanski and Brody went on to win Oscars in those categories.
The 55-member society held its 38th annual meeting Saturday at Sardi's restaurant in Manhattan.
Clint Eastwood was voted best director for "Mystic River." The 73-year-old Eastwood was similarly honored 11 years ago for "Unforgiven."
Best actress honors went to Charlize Theron, who gained weight and donned prosthetics to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in "Monster." Theron has been nominated for a Golden Globe for best actress in a drama and her work was honored as best breakthrough performance by the National Board of Review.
Bill Murray was named best actor for his performance in the comedy "Lost in Translation" as a famous actor going through a midlife crisis while filming a commercial in Tokyo. The society honored Murray as best supporting actor five years ago for "Rushmore." The New York Film Critics Circle also voted him best actor for "Lost in Translation" and he has been nominated for a Golden Globe.
Honors for work in supporting roles went to Peter Sarsgaard in "Shattered Glass" and Patricia Clarkson, who also won last year for "Far From Heaven," repeats in the category for her roles in "The Station Agent" and "Pieces of April."
Russell Boyd was singled out for his cinematography on the seafaring adventure "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World."
Finland's "The Man Without a Past" received best foreign-language film honors and France's "To Be and To Have" was voted best nonfiction film.
The organization gave its Film Heritage Award to Kino on Video for its "excellent DVD collections of F.W. Murnau, Erich von Stroheim and the American Film Theatre series" and Milestone Film and Video for its "exemplary DVD and theatrical presentations of Michael Powell's 'The Edge of the World,' E.A. Dupont's 'Piccadilly,' Andre Antoine's 'La Terre' and the films of Evegni Bauer."